Property Council SA’s Bruce Djite recommends North-South corridor toll
Would a toll road fast-track the final stage of the North-South Corridor? New Property Council boss Bruce Djite thinks it’s time to debate the idea.
4 min read
February 10, 2023 - 4:00PM
Bold thinking, starting with a proper debate about the merits of using a toll road to fast-track the final stage of the North-South corridor, is what the state needs to flourish amid the current economic malaise, according to new Property Council SA boss Bruce Djite.
In his first interview since starting his new job last week, Mr Djite has challenged the state government to think outside the square as it faces a global war for talent in the aftermath of Covid.
Mr Djite said there were key areas where strong leadership from the state government was needed, including on the contentious Torrens to Darlington road project and on reining in Adelaide’s urban sprawl.
Delays and redesigns have blown out the cost of T2D to $15.4bn, and Mr Djite said it was time to consider getting the private sector involved in order to make the project a reality.
“South Australia needs to elevate and have more mature conversations relating to infrastructure funding – it should not be taboo to say toll road here, because we’re talking about a $15bn road,” he said.
“Politically it’s hard to prosecute a toll road but we need leadership. A $700m hydrogen plan, merging the unis, LIV Golf are a few examples where we have seen leadership from government.
“But it should also be bipartisan, that’s how they do it. We have to make a choices. Do we want a complex economy, a knowledge economy, investing money in the best and brightest minds that are going to create economic value? Or do we want to spend $15bn on bitumen?”
Revised designs for T2D, revealed in December, came in at a cost of $15.4bn, up from the former Liberal government’s $9.9bn plan in 2021. The state government is in talks with the Commonwealth to top up its commitment and maintain a 50:50 funding split.
The state government has consistently ruled out implementing a user-pay system to finance the project, arguing motorists would avoid the toll road, thereby further congesting the surrounding road network.
Infrastructure and Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis said the state government remained opposed to private-sector involvement in the T2D project, despite the budget blowout, worsening economic conditions and a tightening of the federal purse.
“The state Labor government has no intention to introduce toll roads on the North-South Corridor or anywhere else. They simply would not work for this project,” he said.
“Nor is the government exploring options for private-sector financing of the project – taxpayers pay taxes, in part, to fund essential motorways such as this one, and this will be a government-funded and delivered project.”
An opposition spokesman said it too was opposed to the use of toll roads in South Australia.
Staunch political opposition locally contrasts with the eastern seaboard, where states have used toll roads to fund a number of major road infrastructure projects.
The country’s largest toll road operator Transurban, which runs Melbourne’s CityLink, Brisbane’s Gateway Motorway and Sydney’s Westlink M7 Motorway, reported this week that a record number of motorists were using its Australian network, with more than 80 per cent of its customers spending less than $10 a week on tolls.
The company’s chief executive Scott Charlton said while toll roads may not necessarily be the answer in Adelaide, where there is less congestion than larger east-coast cities, there were other innovations the private sector could bring to major projects.
“Tolls in someplace like Adelaide, where the congestion is only for shorter periods of time, probably makes it difficult to support a road by itself,” he said.
“But I think getting the private sector involved in some capacity can always be a positive thing by getting innovation, getting a different way of looking at things.
“There’s different things like availability payments, innovative things around operation and maintenance, and other arrangements that can be put in place to provide that innovative thinking and better delivery.”
Availability charges refer to an arrangement where a private company is responsible for financing, operating and maintaining a road, and in return is paid a set charge over time by the government.
Mr Djite, a former footballer with Adelaide United, took the reins as Property Council SA executive director last week after a year and a half heading up the Committee for Adelaide.
With CBD office vacancies sitting at a six-year high of 16.1 per cent, and more city-based workers choosing to work from home, Mr Djite said reactivating the CBD was a key issue facing the industry.
With the state government in the process of rewriting the city’s 30-year plan, he wants to see a greater push for population growth in the CBD and for more housing in the city and inner suburbs.
“We’ve got to reimagine the CBD and especially in Adelaide we need to densify where people live – businesses within the CBD should be more than economically viable as a result of residents’ spending alone,” he said.
“We need more infill development. Look at Bowden. Notwithstanding the time it has taken to build out the site, it is a great example of what is required, and with the West End brewery site I’m hoping to see a lot of residential and a mixed-use precinct being developed there.
“When you get well-planned infill you get vibrancy, you get good economic, social, cultural and community growth and outcomes, you get economies of scale – it’s just better all round economically.”